Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography Ruth Fincher (AM)(Griffith Taylor Medal) Citation

Conferred, July 2022

With courage, generosity, bubbling energy, and strong leadership, Ruth Fincher illuminates how and why the discipline of Geography matters in addressing the everyday challenges of living ethically with difference. Her exceptional contribution to transdisciplinary theoretical developments on gender, ethnicity, rights, equality, and justice in the city focuses on progressive political alternatives to exclusion that value dignity and inclusion. Her publications including 10 books, 39 book chapters and 69 journal articles materialise urban planning and public policy outcomes.

Ruth’s innovative scholarship shows a political and ethical commitment to everyday equality that encompasses all people, including those who are most vulnerable, racialized, disadvantaged, and dehumanised, such as women, people experiencing poverty, international students, and first-generation migrants of colour. In a career that spans more than 30 years, Ruth has transformed geography and the social sciences by elevating overlooked but innovative feminist and Antipodean insights on the city that are informed by grounded research. For example, her recently published co-authored book Everyday Equalities bears all the hallmarks of Ruth’s thinking. Its theoretical insights into urban multiculture are developed in engagements with feminist thinking on difference especially, and by close consideration of how everyday practices such as making a home are shaped and reshaped by urban inhabitants. Balancing critical theory with a focus on applied outcomes without being prescriptive, the work concludes by offering a set of propositions for a praxis of being together in difference as equals, and by inviting readers to respond with propositions of their own in research in other places and times.

Ruth’s exceptional contributions to the discipline and higher education are nationally and internationally recognised. She has held prestigious positions and awards that celebrate her academic excellence as well as her generosity as a leader, a scholar, a colleague, a teacher, supervisor, and trusted friend. Ruth Fincher is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Melbourne, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia (from 2002), Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Australian Geographers and a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). In Australian Geography’s long history, she would be among few women to be awarded the Griffith Taylor Medal.

Ruth strengthened the discipline of Geography in many elected leadership positions held in national and international professional organisations. Her service to disciplinary organisations has included terms as President and Council Member at the Institute of Australian Geographers (1992–2004), Vice-President of the International Geographical Union (IGU) (2008–2012), Chair of the IGU Commission on Gender and Geography (1996–2000), and member of the National Committee for Geography, Australia (2012–2018).

Ruth has been a powerful and effective advocate for the importance of ‘thinking geographically’ in the social sciences. She has represented geography in her roles as a Board member of the International Social Science Council (2018–2021), a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, and a member of the Australian Research Council College of Experts (2005). Her appointment to the position of Manager of Research in the Commonwealth Government’s Bureau of Immigration Research in the 1990s is testament to her ability to communicate geographical approaches and insights to audiences beyond the discipline.

At the University of Melbourne, where she spent much of her career, Ruth was effective in efforts to make the university an inclusive space that nourished intellectual engagement and co-learning. Thousands of students have taken her courses, where many were first introduced to Geography. She held many leadership positions in higher education. She was Deputy Vice Chancellor International (2018–2019), Pro-Vice Chancellor (2011–2014), President of the Academic Board (2013–2014), Chair in Geography (2007–2015), Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning (2003–2006), and Professor of Urban Planning (1997–2006). In 2008, she assumed leadership in establishing the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, the university’s first interdisciplinary research institute.

Ruth’s commitment to supporting and sustaining scholarly community is reflected in her career-long engagement in cooperative research. Her publications include collaborations with local and international scholars at a range of career stages, and from across a range of disciplines. Her co-authored or co-edited books include Everyday Equalities: Making Multicultures in Settler Colonial Cities (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), Planning and Diversity in the City: Redistribution, Recognition and Encounters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Creating Unequal Future: Rethinking Inequality, Poverty and Disadvantage (Allen and Unwin, 2001), Australian Poverty: Then and Now (Melbourne University Press, 1998), and Cities of Difference (Guilford Press, 1998).

Accounting for these career highlights and contributions, we are also moved to nominate Ruth for the Griffith Taylor Medal because of the impact she has had, and continues to have, on the lives and careers of so many geographers who have benefited directly and indirectly from her support. Ruth’s approach to difference is more than a scholarly endeavour— a feminist praxis of living, it is listening, learning, and writing with humility. Ruth energetically and efficiently juggled many responsibilities as a partner and mother and etched a new path in the discipline at a time when women were almost invisible. As her career advanced, Ruth took seriously her responsibilities as a leader and used the many positions she held to create opportunities for undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral students as well as for colleagues. She understands the importance of mentoring and inspiring women and emerging scholars to move forward with hope and hold on to dreams for a better world.

As a geographer who engages in ongoing learning, Ruth has made very highly significant and profoundly effective contributions to making geography a more inclusive and egalitarian space and especially  inspires women including scholars of colour who aim to move the stony walls of the university through decolonial dreaming.

Proposed:

Michele Lobo, Deakin University.
Kurt Iveson, University of Sydney.

Seconded:
Elaine Stratford, University of Tasmania.
Ilan Wiesel, University of Melbourne.

Further information:

Stratford, E., (2022). Festschrift initiative: Celebrating Emeritus Professor Ruth Fincher AM. Geographical Research, 60(1), 206– 212. https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-5871.12509